Great Blue Heron
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Those of you who are at all familiar with Great Blue Herons might wonder why I, a resident of a burning desert, would be posting about this species. After all, these are wading birds and the idea of them showing up amid the cactus and mesquite would appear at first blush to be, well, a bit ludicrous.
But, they are here and they are not uncommon. Great Blue Herons are wading birds by nature but they do quite well in environments where water is scarce but where food is plentiful. One sees these big birds all the time in the agricultural precincts near Tucson. There, they patrol the fields looking for small rodents to seize. They also hang out on the edges of irrigation ditches and canals looking for frogs and toads. In Tucson, Great Blue Herons seem to show up at any of our public parks that have ponds. In that respect, they are like the cormorants I’ve written about. There is at least one park in Tucson that has a small lake stocked with fish and there, the herons not only prosper but they breed.
Recently, I photographed a Great Blue Heron relaxing on a tree that overhung a pond.
This is a very large bird, standing almost four feet tall. Amazingly, it is quite light, weighing a bit over five pounds.
Great Blue Herons are remarkably efficient hunters. A standard hunting tactic for one of these birds is to stand absolutely motionless at water’s edge, peering down intently. The instant something edible swims by the bird uncoils its very long neck and uses its beak to spear or snatch the prey. These birds are lightning fast and when one of them grabs prey it happens more quickly than the human eye can follow.
Great Blue Herons can appear to be very beautiful, at times and look rather goofy at others. Any bird with a neck as long as this species has runs the risk of appearing to be a bit silly occasionally.
They also display remarkable balance and poise. This bird is balancing comfortably on one foot while simultaneously looking a bit sinister.
Mostly, however, I find these birds to be beautiful.
A note about tonight’s images. When I photograph wildlife I prefer, whenever possible, to make images with the sun shining over my shoulder and directly at the subject. For me, perfect lighting normally is when my shadow on the ground extends directly toward my subject. That was impossible here. The bird was perched above water. I would have needed a boat in order to maneuver to a location where the sun shone over my shoulder. In the position I was standing, the sun was coming at a 90 degree angle from my right. I had no choice when I made these photos but to accept that lighting. I swallowed hard, took the pictures — and was delighted by the outcome. The strongly side lit bird came out beautifully. The lesson I learned is that we can get a bit too set in our ways at times. I will definitely make more side lit images in the future.
Images made with a Canon 5Diii, 400mm f4.5-5.6 ISII zoom lens+1.4x telextender, aperture priority setting, ISO 400, f8 @ 1/800.